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- Written by Andy Wooldridge (CCCougarfan)
- Published on March 12, 2011
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Millers Pull One Out Of The Fire
West Albany (23-4) took their shot at top ranked Springfield (26-2), and the phenom of 5A hoops, the Millers' 6'5" Sophomore Mercedes Russell, with the 5A title at stake, tonight, and they almost made good on it, taking a 2 point lead into the last minute.
But a melee ensued, resulting in the Millers converting a pair of turnovers into baskets, and a 42-40 win.
First Russell put in the loss averting basket (left) that looked like it might force overtime, and then an Ashley Ritchie steal led to a last second basket, and Springfield had pulled one out of the ashes, never mind the fire.
"Ashley has some quick hands!" Springfield coach Bill Wagner exclaimed, after Ritchie stole the ball and made the feed to Alison Hinton for what would be the game winning layin with 1 second showing on the Matthew Knight Arena scoreboard.
Initially, switching Bulldog double teams were moderately effective, and the first five minutes were played even, 8-8. Russell's two baskets came when West wasn't able to apply the double team.
Ashton Siegner hit a pair of three pointers early, and with 2 minutes left in the first quarter, West was out to a 13-8 lead.
Russell's next basket came on an un-boxed out putback, as Russell showed maturity, capitalizing on miscues when they happened.
It was Ritchie's three pointer from the right corner that tied the game back up at 13-13 after one quarter.
West Albany slowed down the pace in the early going in the second period, but Springfield has seen that before, and didn't over-react.
A Russell baseline drive, gave the Millers a 19-17 lead midway in the quarter, but then she drew her second foul, and Samantha Siegner re-established a tie.
The Miller's student section managed to disrupt one of S. Siegner's next two free throws, and Russell went to work, with her own personal three look possession, giving her an 11 point, 9 rebound first half.
West Albany held for the last shot, but Russell got a blocked shot. Kaley Potter fouled Jaclyn Silsby with .9 left on the clock. Silsby made only one of two free throws, and though Silsby stole the Millers' inbounds pass, the shot that went down was clearly after the clock ran out, and as a result, the game was a 21-21 tie after one period.
Russell had a quietly efficient first half, and the Siegner sisters shared the scoring lead for the Bulldogs, both with 8 points.
West Albany head coach Craig Swanson had to be happy with where he stood.
An exchange of missed three point attempts accomplished nothing, so West Albany decided to finish a break instead, and Silsby layed it in. And after Emily Huber wrapped a pair of three pointers from the left side around a Russell basket, the Bulldogs had bolted to a 29-23 lead a little over two minutes into the second half.
A Miller turnover turned into a S. Siegner score, and after Russell couldn't answer, the Bulldog spread the floor, but couldn't convert. Silsby on a breakaway off a Miller turnover worked much better, for a 7-0 run, and a 10 point, 33-23 West Albany lead with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
Using a foul was worth it for West Albany, as it saved a score, and a turnover resulted. The Bulldogs couldn't convert multiple looks though, and Russel made them pay on the other end.
The Bulldogs spread out the floor again, but A. Siegner missed a three pointer. Richey didn't, but S. Siegner answered, to rebuild the lead to 7.
Russell scored and drew S. Siegner's third foul on a help-out. The free throw made it only a 35-31 deficit, and after another missed three pointer, Russell rolled to the basket for her 20th. point, pulling the Millers within two points heading to the fourth quarter.
Dani Kastrava connected only one of two free throws to start the final quarter, and Russell's putback tied it at 35 all.
The Bulldogs decided to take the clock down a couple of minutes, but that only resulted in a turnover. Ritchie quickly jacked up an inaccurate three pointer, and Swanson decided it was time to talk about how to handle the last five minutes of the game.
"We had probably shot too much rom the perimiter," Swanson conceded.
Russell's presence inside provided as much of a disruptiive force as her scoring was on the other end, and when West Albany turened it over again, Ritchie's free throws put the Millers back in front.
In what was becoming a theme, the Bulldogs missed the first shot, and couldn't control the rebound.
Springfield couldn't control the ball on the perimiter, but Richie stole the ball back. Only one free throw went down, however, and when Kastrava connected, it was a one point game again.
S. Siegler got called for charging on a good looking basket scoring drive, but Russell missed a putback on the other end, and Kastrava, below, put West Albany ahead 40-38, with a two plus one drive with just over a minute and a half left.
Russell got stripped clean, and the Bulldogs were within 52 seconds of the upset.
Three turnovers in a melee that probably involved weapons, but no whistles, ended in the Russell layin to tie the score, and the steal by Ritchie that resulted in her feeding Hinton for the go-ahead layin with 1 second left, putting Springfield ahead 42-40, and launching the Millers into celebration.
"We had fouls to give, so we decided instead of putting them on the line, to be agressive, and try to force turnovers," Wagner explained.
Both teams used timeouts with .6 seconds left, but the Bulldogs threw the inbounds pass away, and that ended the Bulldogs' threat.
The strategy in the last minute raised as many questions as the dissappearrance of the whistles, starting with West Albany's cross-court ball movement. "We were trying to run a screen-and-roll," Swanson said. "We got to far over, but credit Springfield, they made a good play."
"Even though they slowed down, we still had to get stops and make plays," Wagner added. "West Albany is a heck of a team, they hit big shot after big shot, but our girls are tough. They have been behind, and in close games before. At the end, just as when they went up 10 points, our girls stayed strong mentally."
Russell finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds, and Ritchie, above, added another 12 points.
S. Siegner's 12 points was the only double digit total for West Albany.
The game winner was Hinton's only basket of the night, and when asked what Wagner was thinking as the deciding play unfolded, he simply said "I hope she makes it."
(Photos by Kirk Mays)